Author's Notes: This, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when you stop thinking and start typing.
I would also like to reiterate that this is all DragonLady's fault.
Just as I was raising my hand to knock again, the door suddenly flew open.
Apparently, a window was not shut properly somewhere in the house, because a gust of dry wind rushed immediately into the apartment. Along the way, it pushed my hat over my forehead, leaving me to blink helplessly into coarse black cloth. There must be a conspiracy of hat-makers out there whose sole purpose is to make me look like a fool. I have had bad luck with hats since I started wearing them at the age of twenty-three. The first one lasted all of ten minutes on my head, before it got blown off into a cesspit.
Whoever it was that opened the door tittered. That made me pause. As far as I knew, Javert never tittered.
Straining my eyes, I snuck a couple of sideways glances from under the hat.
The stairway was familiar heavy oak, with the middles rubbed to a dull gleam, except for the second stair from the bottom, which had been of brand new firwood. The thought had crossed my mind as I was coming up that the old stair must've finally given way, what with Javert's habit of jumping on it every morning. (Javert, being Javert, descends his stairs in a very particular fashion which over the years has left every third step counting from the top loose and creaky.)
The ink-seller was also around, because it was Wednesday – I could hear her donkey braying around the corner. So I was not mistaken in either the house or the street. Clopine's high-pitched meowl in the bedroom dissolved the rest of my doubts. I was clearly in the right place.
I took the hat off and lifted a hand to brush back my hair. In the next moment, I turned into a pillar of salt.
Leaning against the door frame, wearing only a blindingly white shirt and long black trousers, was a vision. It looked to be about twenty years of age. It had glossy, raven-black locks, coffee-coloured skin, and the pose of utter nonchalance. It was contemplating a bitten green apple.
"Is it Eugene?" asked Javert's muffled voice from behind the half-shut bedroom door.
Without turning its head, the vision tore its black, black, black eyes away from the apple and ran a brief, appraising gaze from my shoes to the top of my head. Despite it being a warm evening, I shivered.
"No, it isn't," the vision answered in a slightly hoarse, boyish tenor and sank its even, pearl-white teeth into the apple, tearing off a good chunk hungrily. "Ith ish thomeone elsh," it continued through the mouthful. "Older." It examined me again, this time slower. "Uglier, too."
I finally guessed to lower my hand, though I was having great trouble collecting any other useful ideas.
"Let him in anyway," replied Javert somewhat indistinctly, as if he spoke through several layers of cloth.
The vision un-leaned from the door frame, stood up to its full height (which turned out to be a good deal greater than mine, though not quite as great as Javert's), and took a step back, holding the door open for me. I nodded, stepped inside, and received another shock.
The apartment looked as if it had been ravaged by a small, but very intent hurricane.
The door was shut with the kick of a boot heel and the vision breezed past me into the kitchen, momentarily overwhelming my nostrils with an intoxicating scent of tangerines and sandalwood. Realizing that I had been dismissed, I cleared some books and papers off the armchair and took a seat.
Back in the days when we were working under the same roof in M.-sur-M., one often heard that Javert was the kind of man to organize his jars alphabetically in the cupboard. Much later, I had found out that this was not true. (He only organizes them by size and approximate sugar content.) Still, he usually maintains neat if not glossy order in his rooms, and this without ever hiring help. Right now, however, one could say that order, to use one of Javert's most beloved expressions, did not even over-night here. Every available flat surface in the small sitting-room was covered with books, papers, unwashed cups, bread crusts, apple cores, and miscellaneous stationery. It was a profound and fundamental disorder the likes of which could only be inflicted on a helpless apartment by one dreadful force in the great Universe: a student.
I took in the chaos surrounding me and couldn't help but glance at my young host, who busied himself noisily with the tea cans, perfectly arched eyebrows raised high and lips pressed tightly together. The mess in the room did not concern him; he had no part of it; no no, not him, no. The little grimace made the already remarkable resemblance between them quite astonishing. I felt a bit irate. I mean, I knew Javert was secretive and all, but to hide... that!
The bedroom door opened, and Javert emerged, wearing his burgundy vest and carrying a short workman's jacket. Clopine dashed out between his legs, her white tail tall and stiff as a chimney. After a couple of seconds of kneading her paws indecisively on the carpet, she rubbed her head against the armchair and looked up at me with imploring blue eyes. I patted the tops of my knees. She sat back slightly on her tail and jumped, already purring.
"You are far too old to be so shameless," grumbled Javert sotto voce, digging through the pockets of the jacket.
"Are you addressing her or me?" I scratched the cat lightly under the chin and was rewarded with a couple of licks and careful, wet nip of sharp teeth.
"Both of you, for different reasons," he said, now patting down his trouser pockets. It was quite improbable that he really meant what I think he meant, but I felt myself colour anyway. Naturally, he did not miss that either.
After a few more seconds of fruitless search, he gave in. "Chris, where are my cigarettes, you imp?"
"How should I know? You know I don't smoke," countered the lad with reproach. He was ladling water from the bucket standing under the table into the plump-bellied bronze samovar. He wore the sleeves unbuttoned and rolled up; his dark arms were naked to above the elbow. Biceps, triceps, and other relevant musculature gleamed in the candlelight. I decided that it would be wiser to avert my eyes.
"Probably at the office. Oh well. It'll do my willpower good. In the meantime: Chris, have you said hello yet, or are you being a boor again?"
The lad grunted something unfriendly from his corner. I was pretty sure I caught the words "gadjo" and "gorilla." Oh my, did they bring back memories...
"Come out this instant, young man, and introduce yourself properly."
The lad crouched so low that he disappeared behind the chest of drawers and began noisily putting back into place various kitchenware. One could hear his dissatisfied grumbling under the clanging of the pots. It was obvious that he did not dare disobey outright, but had no desire to comply quickly either. Finally, he came back up and moved slowly in my direction, wiping his hands carefully on the towel slung around his shoulder. It was a slow, intimidating stalk. He was giving me time and opportunity to examine his figure with care and decide against being violent or even cheeky with him; Javert himself sometimes moved precisely the same way when facing possibly armed suspects. I forced myself to stand firm and not shrink away.
"Valjean, meet my son. Chris, meet Jean Valjean, my best enemy since forever and my most esteemed colleague since somewhat more recently."
I bowed. The lad did not move an inch. Javert cleared his throat loudly. The lad lifted his upper lip to his nose, sighed, and inclined his head slightly to me. The effort had obviously cost him.
"Chris must be an abridgement of Christophe?" I said. I could not tear my eyes away from his face. It was so very... familiar.
"You are mistaken, monsieur," he drawled, emphasizing the honorific with poorly hidden sarcasm. "It is an abridgement of no such thing. My name is Krishna, monsieur."
Krishna. Of course.
It was so strange to see them together. Two pairs of eyes that were upturned slightly at the corners, like those of cats, except one was steel- grey, and the other pitch black. Two short noses - Javert's slightly upturned, Krishna's perfectly straight. Absolutely the same square jaws, with varying amounts of stubble - Javert sported a five-o'clock shadow; the lad was clean-shaven. Same exotic beauty, only in different concentrations: where Javert's was rather diluted, Krishna's was at least twice distilled.
"It is wonderful to meet you," I said and meant it.
If not for the young one's slightly darker skin and dark eyes, he would not simply resemble his father – he would be his father, Javert back when he was still Corporal Xavier of the Toulon galleys, assistant to jailer of the second ward, a thorn in the side of old head-jailer Renault and a godsend to all his charges; a handsome young officer who had spent the preceding five or six years as an errand boy now to the galley hospital, now to the galley armoury, and who had been known to each and every inmate simply as Zingarino. The only guard who never lifted a hand against anyone without a provocation, who always smiled and teased, and who actually saw to it that his men were healthy and strong, even though every other ward dragged their feet and scratched, scratched, scratched, what, with the straw they gave us it was a miracle if the lice didn't eat you alive and drive you crazy with insomnia in your first month. We envied them so, the second ward fellows, for we had to put up with the usual breed of guards, army cast-outs who thought no rules of conduct applied to them, who were absolutely certain that we were not simply slaves of the law but also their own personal slaves, and who only spoke to us in blows and lashes...
Still irked with his father for forcing an undesirable acquaintance and probably fed up with my rude gawking, Krishna turned on his heels and disappeared into the bedroom without a word. Javert immediately turned towards me and growled low in his throat:
"Don't even think about it."
I blinked innocently. Who, me?
"Don't even THINK about thinking about it. Don't let the shadow of a thought of thinking about it cross your diseased old brains."
I heaved a mental sigh of compassion. I knew what it was like to be parent to an attractive child.
"Do calm down. I was just looking. He really looks quite remarkably like you. I was startled, that's all."
"Oh? Startled? Is he also startled then or what?" he said, motioning downward with his eyes.
I felt my cheeks heat up.
"He's just curious. He'll be good," I promised a bit too hurriedly.
"I've got a shotgun and a shovel."
"I swear he'll be good. And the rest of me also."
The bedroom door swung open and young Krishna strode back into the sitting room. He was now wearing a velvet black vest and a dark green frock coat that seemed molded to his figure. I realized that it was necessary for me to sit down and cross my legs. I caught Javert's menacing scowl and threw the jacket into my lap as well. I was going to be good.
"I am leaving," the young man announced in a haughty tone that allowed for no objections, as he paused in front of Javert's shaving mirror to fix his cravat in a Gordian knot. "I shall not be back tonight."
"Oh? And where are you heading off to, if I may be permitted to inquire?" Javert's usually light sarcasm hit an uncommon crescendo.
Krishna turned around and glared at him. Twin pinpoints of candlelight danced furiously in his eyes like camp-fires in the black, moonless night.
"Where do young men of my age usually go when the sun sets and the gas lamps are set alight, sir? To the Opera, the theatre, the dance hall, the billiards hall, the café, goddammit! I am free, I am young; I have time, I have means – I shall roam the streets and the drawing-rooms; I shall drink of life! I wish to have beautiful, charming young women around me and handsome young men, too, coquettes and idlers whose mouths have never tasted foul words like "recidivist," "stake out," and "stool pigeon," who do not know how to break out of any given mark of handcuffs in under thirty seconds, and who can speak of art and politics without frothing at the mouth and making rude gestures!"
During this entire speech, which has been released all in one breath, Krishna took small steps towards his father until they were almost nose to nose, or rather nose to chin. The lad's teeth were bared and his cheeks were bright with a flush; Javert was cool and amused.
"You'll be gone a while, then?" he asked calmly.
"Yes! I shall not return tonight! Nor the next night! Thou shalt not see me this week at all!"
"I see. You are going to the Opera, you said? Don't forget your programme," said Javert sweetly and held out his hand. In it was a sizable stack of sheets covered in small, neat writing.
Krishna momentarily turned ashy grey, tore the sheets violently out of his father's hand, and started shoving them into his own pockets. Just as he was about to make a hurried exit, Javert twisted the knife.
"Give young Dardenne my regards."
The door slammed violently shut. Several chips of plaster dropped from the ceiling.
Javert turned to look at me. My confusion must have been writ large all over my face, because he suddenly barked out a hoarse laugh and motioned for me to get up.
"Come on, let's not keep old Gisquet waiting."
How do you like that now? Gisquet. He springs this on me, I thought, and now talks of Gisquet. And anyway, we still have a good half an hour until the appointment; he has no excuse for silence.
"What was that all about?"
"Oh, this is a silly story," sighed Javert, as he locked the door behind us. "Apparently, he got it into his head to become a public attorney after hearing about me from his mother. You know, so that he could defend the fellows I arrest. He's been attending classes clandestinely these past couple of years – or rather, he thought he was doing it clandestinely. I don't think he's quite realized yet how little happens in this city without me knowing."
He was being deliberately obtuse with me. I decided to disregard it. He'll tell me about the kid when he's ready. Which may well be never, but he certainly won't tell me before that.
"Recently, he's sniffed out a co-conspirator of sorts, a young man with splendidly rich and perpetually ailing relatives and a frightfully meager allowance; that one has been studying law mostly to defy his father, who wishes nothing more than for his first-and-only-born to be a proper gentleman" – Javert hawked and spat heartily onto the cobblestones, "and sit on his arse all day. Their bar exams are coming up soon, so they've been studying together for weeks, almost every evening."
"So, you sent spies to report on your own son. Your own flesh and blood." I found that I was not as astonished as I should have been. This was, after all, Javert.
"Of course," he said, frowning slightly at my question. To him it must've sounded about as penetrating an inquiry as "Do cats usually meow if their tails are pulled?"
"He will never forgive you!"
"Oh, he doesn't know. He's not naturally suspicious; he'll think I only learned about it from those study guides I found. He was even careless enough to mention Dardenne by name in the margins."
"I'm sure he'd still object to being spied on."
"Unfortunately, the observation is necessary. I have good reason to believe that Dardenne's daddy is up to his ears in inheritance fraud."
"Isn't this Eugene's territory these days?" Vidocq's new Bureau de Renseignements was only a few months old, but the General had already made it plain to the rest of us that he didn't want our involvement until he asked for it explicitly.
"It is, and I have been expecting him for a chat. I got you instead." Javert smirked.
"But what does this have to do with your Krishna?"
"Thankfully, very little. I only need to make sure that Dardenne Junior is keeping clean of his father's business affairs. That is all." Javert paused, then continued with a smirk, "And, of course, who isn't curious about their offspring? They are so frightfully clever at this age. They know they have everyone fooled. They steal away in the night and come back in the morning with white-wash on their backs and a sated glow on their mugs. It's really rather cute."
I recalled Cosette's behavior when she was courting her husband and had to smile. She had run rings around me then with her innocent-little-angel act. Javert probably had fewer assumptions about his child's morals, which would make him that much harder to deceive.
"You think they are lovers." It came out rather less like a question than I intended.
"His personal life is none of my business, as long as he stays within the law."
We walked the rest of the way towards the quay in silence. Javert's eyes were fixed on the horizon and his long legs measured out the streets in large, even strides, like the legs of a compass. I trotted along his side like a poodle and could not extinguish in my mind the burning black fire of Krishna's eyes.